More on “West End Blues”

As I slipped off to sleep last night, that incredible opening trumpet solo of Louis Armstrong’s on “West End Blues” kept playing over and over in my mind.

Gunther Schuller points out that “We are immediately aware of their terrific swing, despite the fact that these four notes occur on the beat, that is, are not syncopated, and no rhythmic frame of reference is set (the solo being unaccompanied). These four notes should be heard by all people who do not understand the difference between jazz and other music, or those who question the uniqueness of the element of swing. These notes as played by Louis – not as they appear in notation – are as instructive a lesson in what constitutes swing as jazz has to offer. The way Louis attacks each note, the quality and exact duration of each pitch, the manner in which he releases the note, and the subsequent split second silence before the next note – in other words, the entire acoustical pattern – present in capsule form all the essential characteristics of jazz inflection.”[1]

Listening, it is not hard to see why that solo has become an icon of jazz music for it is truly perfect in structure and form. This is now about as abstract as it gets in Partch’s definition, yet it is integral to and derives from the corporeal performance of the whole song. Confounding again


[1] Schuller, Gunther Early Jazz: Its Roots And Early Development, Oxford University Press, 1986, p 116

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